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THE LONG ROAD HOME

13 Mar
Just another shitty day in Paradise

Just another shitty day in Paradise

 

Yeah, I know this post is late. That’s becoming an ongoing theme, isn’t it? Well, I am retired and I run on Baja time, which mostly entails, “Manana”. Why do something today, when there’s no rush and tomorrow is soon enough? Besides, the days all flow into one another and I’m always amazed at how quickly they pass. That’s the biggest reason why my posts are always late from here. I suddenly realize that I haven’t written for a while and when I check the calendar a month or more has gone by.

 

Truth be told, I didn’t really want to write this particular post because it’s the last one from the beach. Yep, it’s that time of year again, when those of us who have a life somewhere else, start to prepare for heading North.

 

The Rattlesnake Beach community started to break up last week with the first 2 campers leaving but the trickle is about to become a rush. By the 16th of March there will be only 5 of us regulars left here and Richard and I will be hitting the road by the 22nd at the latest.

 

Bougainvilla in full bloom! It's Spring in Baja

Bougainvilla in full bloom! It’s Spring in Baja

The big push comes from Semana Santos, or Saints Week, the week of celebration before Easter Sunday, when all the locals who can, move out to the beach and take over every square foot of available camping space. A few of the regulars have friends in the local communities who come every year and camp with them. They apparently enjoy the excitement of having a small city descend upon them for a week!

 

Richard and I feel that since we basically have the use of the beach for 6 months, the least we can do is get off it and let the locals enjoy it without having to share it with a bunch of Anglos. We also camp at the far north end of the beach where the launch ramp is and it gets incredibly busy and noisy during Semana Santos. After 6 months of peace and quiet the last thing we want to take away with us is the stress of absolute chaos, loud noise, music, Skidoos, Pangas, cars, trucks, kids, dogs and people and garbage everywhere!

 

So we’re already in prep mode, deciding what to take, what to leave, packing up stuff we aren’t using, unpacking it again when we realize we are still using it, trying not to purchase too much food so it will all be used up when we leave, rushing to the store when we realize we don’t have enough for dinner and saying goodbye daily to friends we won’t see for another 6 months. It evokes a kind of sadness; since we know that next year will not be an exact repeat of this year. Some folks will return, some won’t. There’s one thing in life we’ve all learned to accept and it’s that change is constant.

 

Stand up John playing around the fire

Stand up John playing around the fire

It’s not all sad because at the same time excitement is building about getting home and seeing our kids and their families again. There’s nothing to give you that kick in the butt to get moving like having one of your Grandkids ask when Grandma and Grandpa are going to be getting home. There is always some trepidation however, since we all know that the weather will not be the warm 85F that it is here.

 

We won’t be rushing home this year like we did last spring! Grummy will be put to bed properly and tucked in for a long summer sleep. Then we’ll meander our way home in Rosie taking our time and visiting ruins and parks in Arizona and New Mexico, as well as the ranch of friends we spend the winter with. We were supposed to go last year but, well, fate intervened. Plus, just because we leave here in March doesn’t mean we want to get home in March. We like to wait long enough for Spring to have have sprung. At least that’s the plan so far…

 

There’s something a little strange about watching the season’s go in reverse as we head home. We leave here and the trees and flowers are in full bloom. All through the southern U.S., everything is green and the trees are in leaf, then gradually as we continue north the leaves slip back into buds and the greenery declines until we reach home where the buds are just starting to show and the landscape has that look of anticipation, just waiting for the right moment to burst forth with the new spring.

 

 

In some ways we’re going to be swept out of our campsite this year as the winds which were mostly gentle for much of the winter have come back with a vengeance. For the last little while we’ve had tremendous blows, one that lasted 2 full weeks, with average wind speeds of more than 20 knots and gusts pushing 35.

 

I know that at home those wind speeds are not considered very big. Hell, I guided regularly in winds over 35, but with the geography here, winds of that speed push the water to deadly proportions. This is the height of the tourist season so there are Kayakers everywhere and due to heavy winds, we had an almost fatal accident just off Rattlesnake Beach 2 weeks ago. Everything worked out thanks to a very experienced Kayak guide from one of the local companies and a Pangero (a panga operator) who braved the heavy seas.

 

It pays to go with an experienced guide when pursuing a sport in areas that you are not familiar with. The group that got into trouble were experienced kayakers at home but not here, and local knowledge is worth its weight in gold. We’ve become friendly with all the local kayak guides and the companies they work for, and we’re impressed by the qualifications, experience and dedication these people show to their chosen profession. It’s the same where I guided, a professional fishing guide can keep you safe, show you the best fishing grounds and put you into the big fish, most of the time. It’s certainly worth spending the extra money; otherwise you’re taking chances in waters you know nothing about.

 

It’s been blowing now for the last 3 days, making the van rock and roll, scouring the last remaining sand from the beach. Tomorrow it’s supposed to drop down to a reasonable speed then down again to almost nonexistent, maybe we’ll get one last trip out in our kayak before we wrap her up and put her in her cradle, on top of Grummy.

 

Eventually the summer winds will come in from the opposite direction and hopefully blow all the sand back onto the beach so that by the time we all return, there will once again be a sandy beach.

 

There’s still a few social get-togethers coming up, my birthday and the last meeting of the Costillo de Puerco club, but in a few short days we’ll be on the road and slowly making our way home. Next time we talk it’ll be from Penticton, where I’m sure I’ll be complaining about the cold, but it sure will be nice to give my family big hugs and spend a few months visiting back and forth with them.

 

Hold on kids, here we come!

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BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR…

6 Nov

I’m sure you’ve heard the old expression in the title of this blog and you all know the next part, “ because you just might get it”. Well, I have to say that I’m never going to tempt fate again and having been involved in the fishing industry most of my life I really should have known better.

Our campsite on October 3rd

Let me back up a bit here. Before we arrived in Baja we knew that this year the rainy season had lived up to its name in spades. We were still astonished though at how green everything was and how many bugs there were. We had hit the beach a day or two after a heavy rain and the temperature, humidity and bug life was pretty overwhelming.

What the campsite looked like on the morning of the 14th

Rattlesnake Beach came as a very pleasant surprise however, because over the course of the summer it had become a true, sandy beach, from one end to the other. We’d been told that the nature of the beach changed fairly regularly and were thrilled that for the first time since we started to camp here, we’d get to enjoy a tropical, sandy paradise, and we did! We were having difficulty getting our kayak out of storage in Loreto as the caretaker was away, but with the water temperature at around 90F we spent a lot of time in it simply because it was a great way to escape from the heat, humidity, (which was in the 70 to 80 percent range) and the bugs. We swam and snorkeled at every opportunity.

This is what it looked like just before Paul hit

In a normal year here, the hurricane season is considered to be over by the beginning of October and we had a few conversations with those who live here year round about what it’s like to experience one. It was during one of these chats that I made the fatal error. I said that I’d experienced massive storms and hurricane force winds at sea and every year very large gales whipped the shores of eastern Vancouver Island where we lived. I’d even been in Vancouver when the tail end of Hurricane Frieda slashed through in 1962, but at the age of 7, didn’t really remember all that much about it, and then I said, “Wouldn’t it be neat to be here and experience one?”

The next thing we knew, the weather reports were tracking a storm in the southern Pacific that was gathering force and heading for the Baja. Eventually it grew big enough that they gave it a name, “Paul”, and it became apparent that it was going to hit the peninsula, though no one was sure exactly where it would make land fall.

Same spot right after Paul passed

We had arrived on Rattlesnake Beach on October the 3rd and gradually, over the next 2 weeks, the temperature and humidity level declined slightly and even the bugs seemed to be leveling off, but come October the 14th it started to rain. The weather gurus explained that Paul wasn’t going to hit us directly but would make landfall further north, That didn’t mean that we weren’t going to be affected by it, just that we wouldn’t experience the full force of it.

This is a spot on our road into the beach called Five Corners. This was on October 3rd. It’s the same spot in the photo below.

This gives you a pretty good idea as to what our road into the beach looked like, and this was only Monday morning before Paul hit.

As I said, on Sunday, the 14th in the morning, the rain started and continued to fall until the afternoon of the 15th. Now I realize that if you live anywhere on Vancouver Island or the lower mainland, at this point you’re shrugging your shoulders and saying, “So what? Sometimes it rains here for weeks on end!” and normally I would agree with you, but during that 36 hours it rained 10.29 INCHES of rain and that was what fell here on the beach, that doesn’t include all that fell on the Gigantes, the mountain range that sits just behind us.

 

It rained so much on Sunday alone, that one look outside Monday morning told us we were all going to be in trouble. Our campsite had a lake in it, the road behind us was flooded and the old arroyo beside us was starting to run. We had already discovered a couple of leaks in Grummy, including one of our skylights, two other small ones that had bowls under them, nothing we couldn’t deal with but we were worried about some of the older campers.

This was our lovely sandy beach north of us just before Paul hit.

It’s hard to explain just what it was like actually. The temperature was in the low 90’s and the humidity level was at 95 percent, everything just felt wet. We even turned the heater on for a couple of hours trying to dry things out a bit but it was too hot to keep it running.

And this is the same beach after Paul, nice eh?

We put on minimal rain gear and headed out for a walk. Come on, we’re from the Wet Coast and a little rain wasn’t going to stop us, besides there was hardly any wind blowing and we wanted to make sure the rest of the folks here were doing OK. We walked from our campsite to the arroyo to the south of us, which was flowing pretty good, and everywhere we went was flooded. The roads weren’t roads anymore they were rivers! Richard carried a hoe and we tried to dig trenches to funnel water where it would do the least amount of damage. Everyone was doing all right, though most had some small leaks, mostly they were all hunkered down waiting Paul out. It rained so hard during the day and was so warm that both Richard and I had showers outside. Hey, why waste it right?

Paul didn’t hit us with a lot of wind, only about 30 to 40 miles an hour, mostly because the vast expenditure of water and wind was thrown at the mountain range at our backs. Thanks to a nasty convergence that was still to come, we were to eventually experience some fairly nasty repercussions!

Over the years I’ve written about the canyons that we hike on a regular basis in the Gigantes, but these are canyons in name only, what they really are, are vast water collection systems designed to funnel it and pour it out in the arroyos that fan out from the base of them, like the one at the end of our beach. When you sit out on the water and look back at the beach, it’s obvious that this entire area is a vast flood plain created by the erosion spewed out of the Gigantes over eons. Most of the time these arroyos are dry and are used as roads to get from place to place where real roads don’t exist, but not on October 14th. Just after noon on Monday, the arroyo to the south of us filled to capacity and broke through a sand dam that had built up over the last 10 years, spewing everything in it and everything that had come down from the Gigantes, out into the sea. The one beside our campsite just kept getting bigger as more water and debris flowed down it.

Around 3 PM the rain stopped and the clouds parted, but it wasn’t over yet. The wind that we did get, combined with the storm surge, high tide and the huge amount of water pouring off the Gigantes into the arroyos came to a head. I don’t know how deep the water coming out of the big arroyo south of us was but the amount of debris it was carrying was tremendous and as the sun started to come out, that debris started to spread. The waves pounded the shore throwing up mountains of woody debris and continued all through the night. The water had so much force that it ended up scouring rocks off the bottom and tossing it up on top of the debris burying it under tons of rocks and gravel.

On Tuesday morning our beautiful sandy beach had vanished and in its place was a horrific mess of deadwood, torn up trees, cactus, weeds and vines, in many places buried almost completely under the rocks and sand.

We had to remove as much out from under the rocks as we could because we realized the smell from the rotting vegetation would be overwhelming if we didn’t. There was no sense waiting for the local municipality or the government to help. We were a pretty low priority as they needed to deal with the damage done to the local area which included destroyed water mains, downed power lines, washed out roads and the approaches on a few of the nearby bridges. The highway, Mex #1 which is the one and only main artery on the peninsula, was closed amazingly, for only one day as they rushed to fill in gaping holes and missing pavement and make the road as safe as possible in as short a time as they could. We were very impressed at how fast the work was completed, especially since the water didn’t stop flowing in some places for a couple more days.

The road into Rattlesnake was severely damaged and though those of us with 4-wheel drive could get in and out, we knew there were a few more campers due to arrive soon. It was a very uncomfortable, bumpy ride that might have proven dangerous for motorhomes and trailers, so we all chipped in and hired a local from the nearby village of Juncalito, who owns a loader, to come in and fix it.

We have only just finished cleaning up our beach and the boat launching area beside us. For days the only way we could get rid of anything was to burn it and for a week, day and night, the fires burned. Everything was done by hand using rakes and shovels.  Considering the size of some of the debris, without a chainsaw, some spots had to be left for the elements and time to deal with.

The continuing trouble for us has to do with the well that we draw water from. The pipes that carry the water and the power lines that run the pumps both crossed the arroyo that drains to the south of us and both were ripped away by the massive runoff out of the Gigantes. This arroyo starts in Tabour Canyon, which I’ve written about before, so Richard and I decided to go up and have a look and what we saw stunned us! The drainage canal that had been built to funnel the water down into this arroyo and away from Puerto Escondido had been about 12 feet deep, only now it’s level with the ground, filled with rocks and gravel. The canyon itself bears no resemblance to anything we remember. The ground that we had walked on before was buried anywhere from 10 to 15 feet below us and from the damage to plants and trees, what little was left, meant that the water level ranged from 25 to 35 feet high as it crashed down off the Gigantes. There is almost no vegetation in the canyon anymore, all of the palm trees are gone and massive rocks bigger than houses, not to mention smaller ones have been tumbled around like toys.

One of the campers has been coming here for 30 years and has a 50-year-old book that explains how the canyon came by its name. The pictures in it show the canyon as we all knew it and this is the first time that anything this dramatic has changed in Tabour. She calls it a Millennium Storm and considering all the damage done by it I think she’s right. At least we can all be thankful that there was no loss of life!

We’re still waiting for the well to be repaired, though water isn’t really a problem since we can buy purified water in Loreto for virtually pennies. It just requires a carrying system. The really big problem has to do with the huge areas of sitting water that has created a plague of mosquitoes, fly’s and no-see-ums, so bad that you can’t go outside for even a few seconds unless you’re covered from head to toe, including your clothes, in at least a 20 percent solution of DEET, preferably 30, and even then it doesn’t keep them all away. There’s been talk of spraying since Yellow and Dengue Fever are carried by some of the varieties of mosquitoes here, but this is a Third World country and it might happen or it might just be rumour, we’ll just have to wait and see. Thank God, I bought no-see-um netting to fix our screens with; it has definitely proven it’s worth this year!

In the meantime our kayak has finally made it to our campsite and we find ourselves, all of us on the beach, for the first time ever, preying for wind! At least out on the water there are hardly any bugs so most of us are spending as much time out there as we can. This is the reason why I’ve been communicating so little lately. It’s no fun sitting under a Palapa roof trying to send off a couple of e-mails while the mosquitoes are descending on you in hordes and the only places we have access to the internet are all outdoors.

You try typing with one hand and waving the other one in the air continuously trying to keep the bugs at bay!

Though now that we’ve got the air conditioning going in the car and can sit right outside the Internet café, I’ll be talking with you a little more!

Did I even tell you how the Sea of Cortez is a continuation of the San Andreas Fault? Good thing I didn’t tempt fate by mention anything about wanting to experience an earthquake eh?

TTFN!

Sensationalism at it’s worst?

19 Mar

 

Well it’s that time of year again when the neighbourhood starts to break up. Folks have to start heading home now for a variety of reasons, some for jobs, some for taxes, some for doctors appointments. The reasons are as varied as the folks who live here all winter long.

 

Of course, few leave without a send off of some sort or another and it’s always a damn good reason for having a potluck.

 

The last get together we had, the conversation rolled around to Sirius Radio and a news report that was heard on a Canadian station. The same folks then viewed a similar program on BCTV. (Yes, some of us have satellite TV down here). The stories were about how dangerous it is to travel in Mexico!

 

This prompted a great deal of hilarity around the campfire. None of us have EVER had any problems down here, except for the occasional, minor pilfering. No violence, no hold-ups, no kidnappings, no drugs, no guns, and there are people who have been coming to this area for over 30 years. Oh sure, we’ve all heard the stories about somebody’s friends cousins girlfriend, who was held up at a blockade on the highway by gun wielding drug runners who stole everything including their car. Try as we might though, none of us have ever been able to find a single person who has experienced this first hand and every year we hear the exact same story only the location changes.

 

Any excuse for a party. Eat drink and BS

As we sat around talking about this, all of us had stories to share of the exact opposite treatment. There was not one of us on the beach that didn’t have an anecdote, about some Mexican going way out of their way to be helpful. For example, we often stop on the side of the highway for coffee and more than once, we’ve had locals stop and ask if we were okay, and did we need mechanical help?

 

We stopped in a very small agricultural town a couple of years ago, far off the beaten track. We discovered they had beautiful gardens so we drove down every street admiring them. At one point an old farmer in his beat up old truck passed us. About half an hour later, when we’d pulled over to have a cup of coffee, the same truck pulled up in front of us, now with 3 people in it. One got out, came to our window and in halting English asked us if we were okay, were we lost. We explained how we had come to their lovely little town, and that we were just having a cup of coffee before heading off, but we thanked him for his enquiry. It seems that the old farmer was concerned that we were lost and so he drove around the town until he found someone who could speak English well enough to converse with us and make sure we were alright!

 

 

We added another little tidbit to the conversation. Recently my father-in-law who also lives near here in the winter needed to go to a bigger town for mechanical help and parts. So off he and Richard went with only an address in hand to Constitution about 100 kilometers away. Needless to say, they couldn’t find the place, so they pulled in to a Frenomex, (which is equivalent to a big chain brake shop at home). The manager spoke English and tried to explain where to go. Realizing that neither of them were familiar with Constitution, he got in his own car and drove them to where the mechanics shop was, then took them to the parts store and refused all offers of recompense.

 

The stories shared that night by more than 30 of us were very similar. All of us have had experiences where complete strangers have gone out of their way to be helpful to the Gringos.

 

We all think there must be some sort of media conspiracy to stop travellers from going to Mexico, especially since there’s hardly a week that goes by that the headlines aren’t blaring about some Canadian or American that’s been beaten, robbed or murdered in Mexico.

 

Okay, yes these things have happened, but they almost always happen in either border towns or big tourist areas, or to someone doing something they shouldn’t have been, or hanging with the wrong kind of people. That’s not to say that murder doesn’t happen in Mexico, it most certainly does, and some of it is pretty horrific, but mostly it’s Mexican on Mexican and is directly related to the drug trade, with the vast majority of it being rival gangs fighting for control, and sometimes innocent bystanders are the unintended victims.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I know enough not to go to border towns for my holidays. If there’s going to be violence, it’s going to be there, especially since border towns the world over are primary smuggling areas, and where there’s smuggling, there’s big money and where there’s big money, there’s violence.

 

I also don’t go to tourist meccas. Anyone with a criminal bent knows that there are going to be tourists with lots of money doing stupid things. Tourists seem to think that if there are many other tourists around, it’s a safe place, so they can get roaring drunk, buy drugs, get into fights and do all sorts of dumb things and nothing bad will happen to them.

 

Now, that said, the media play up every criminal act that happens in Mexico but when was the last time you heard about a tourist having problems in New Orleans? Bet you haven’t, yet many Americans, have told me if I go there to stay away from specific, well-known touristy areas. It seems the bad folk there know that drunken tourists in unfamiliar places make easy marks and being robbed or killed is a fairly common happenstance.

 

I grew up in Vancouver, and it’s a beautiful city, but I don’t travel in the Downtown East side at night there. I’m not interested in hanging around areas that are frequented by gangs either and since the worst gang problems mainly relating to the drug trade in Vancouver are mostly centered in the bucolic suburbs of Surrey, intelligence tells me to stay the hell away from there, especially at night.

 

Talk to Californians, those who live near Los Angeles and they’ll tell you it has a major gang problem and can be a deadly place to go for a walk if you wander into the wrong neighbourhoods, especially if you happen to be wearing the colours of a rival gang. Accidental death by drive-by shooting is a fairly regular occurrence.

 

I’m sure if I looked at statistics, I’d find that just about every tourist area the world over has a an ugly underbelly, yet only Mexico seems to be the country held out as an extremely dangerous place to go on holiday. I can’t tell you why; maybe it has to do with money, ideology, politics or any combination thereof.

 

Maybe your idea of a Mexican vacation is to hang around a large tourist area like Cabo San Lucas, for a week, hoping from crappy bar to crappy bar, drunk out of your mind, being loud and obnoxious and flashing a wad of cash. Or perhaps you’re looking for a little drug and hooker action in places like Tijuana or Mexicali. Chances are if either of these is your idea of a good time, it won’t matter where you are, trouble is going to find you, and it won’t be pretty.

 

What I do know is, if you come to the Baja to visit the little villages, hamlets, towns and beaches, see the sights, take a few photos and enjoy eating some of the local cuisine, you won’t need to worry about any of those things. Of course from the point of view of those of us in the know, the more people afraid to travel to Mexico, the less crowded the beaches will stay.

Hmm, maybe you should listen to those newscasts….

 

 

JUST PART OF THE LANDSCAPE

6 Apr

Have you ever noticed the occasional roadside shrine at home? You know, the simple cross erected on the side of the road at the sight where a loved one has died in a terrible accident. Sometimes they have a few mementos like a photo or a stuffed animal. Down here it’s an art form and they are everywhere.

Up until recently, the roads have been narrow, and poorly maintained, with steep cliffs, and sharp corners. Not to mention no lighting or guardrails, plus moving targets in the form of large farm animals wandering across the roads freely. The lines painted on the road seem to be a mere suggestion as to which side of the road one should stay on and passing on blind, uphills is common. The laws requiring seat belts to be worn does exist, but enforcement is non-existent and the push to educate against drinking and driving has only just recently begun.

When shrines become this big, they become roadside attractions and it's not unusual to see picnickers, and others taking advantage of the shade. Sometimes they will even light a votive candle in thanks.

When we first started driving down here, we were amazed at just how many shrines we saw, now we barely notice them, unless they are something special or it’s Day of the Dead. A shrine here can be as simple as a metal or cement cross or as elaborate as a cathedral. We have seen ones ranging from plain to extremely beautiful, from comical; designed to resemble the tractor of the semi the man was driving, to macabre; displaying pieces of the wrecked vehicle, to outright kitsch.

This is what I mean by macabre. It's not unusual to see pieces of the vehicle the individual was killed in displayed with the shrine.

A lot can be told from the shrines, such as wether or not the dead individual was survived by loving family and what their financial situation was and if it’s gotten better or worse. If survived by caring relatives the original marker will eventually be replaced by a more permanent one, sometimes a much more elaborate one. There will also be a fresh wreath placed on it during the celebration of the Day of the Dead and any other personal family celebrations. Sometimes it becomes obvious that the dead individual was either not very loved or the family has moved away or died out. The marker never receives any new wreaths and gradually rusts away,  falls over or is vandalized.

This shrine has been vandalized and may be abandoned

Now, I must digress a bit here and explain what Day of the Dead actually is. It is part remembrance, part celebration and part appeasement of the deceased family member, and is a completely Mexican festival. The celebration covers 2 days, and is accompanied by special cakes, sweets and candies, many of which are shaped like skulls. Children are honoured on November 1st using white flowers and candles, while adults are remembered on November 2nd. The surviving family members, clean and tidy up the cemetery plot, and the road side shrine if there is one. New, fresh wreaths are placed, along with maybe a fresh coat of paint. Then at Midnight, the family will go to the cemetery and bringing food will set up a place to eat, making sure there’s a place set at the table for the deceased. Then they will commune with and celebrate their lost family members in a happy and colourful celebration.

 
In some instances these shrines become bigger and bigger as time passes. They start to incorporate bigger buildings with gardens and benches and take up more ground beside the highways. The biggest ones we’ve seen can be entered like small churches. The most amazing thing about these shrines is their immovability. They are never touched by road work and even when the Government is building new stretches of road or straightening out curves, the road will be built around them.

Here you can see the original cross with the name plate, and the newer, growing shrine in front

You can see the new shrine growing in front of the old one and new flowers in place. This one is well looked after.

There is an amazing array of things that are placed in these shrines, pictures, photos, baby shoes, teddy bears, money, cans of beer and or pop, locks of hair, silk flowers, crucifixes, crosses, statues of Jesus and Mary, articles of clothing, letters of loss or love, cans of food, strands of garlic and of course votive candles. All either as a loving memento, a remembrance or as something the deceased used or loved in life or can use in the afterlife. Just because the vast majority are Catholic doesn’t mean that a little of the primitive religions that where here before the Spanish arrived, hasn’t crept in.

This shrine has a fair amount of stuff in it, but we've seen far bigger ones that have so much stuff in them that you can't differentiate any of it.

I said in my last blog that the Mexicans really know how to party, well, they really know how to grieve and at the same time celebrate life and death as well! Unlike our placid, boring cemeteries at home, designed for the ease of care  by the groundskeeper, here they are a riot of colour, size and shape. When I asked why, I was told, “We love colour and variety in life, why wouldn’t we want to be surrounded by it in death?”
That my friends is a very good question!

 

You always have to pay the Piper!

8 Feb

We come here every winter obviously because it’s warmer than anywhere in British Columbia. The sun shines virtually every day, the temperature sits at a balmy 22c, on average, and if it clouds up and rains, well maybe 20 rain drops will fall from the sky. Ok, once every winter we do get a downpour and it can last an hour or so, but for the most part the weather is pretty awesome. It might not be the tropics, but it’s pretty close and it’s good enough for the folks I hang with.

There is however, a price that must be paid for this…..El Grande Norte, The Big North. This is a wind that blows pretty much every winter, down from the north. It can start anywhere after the end of November and blows on and off until April.

You can go from this......

...to this, in less than 1 hour!

Some years it’s like living with a raging gale that just never seems to let up, and then you get a year like this one, were the winds have for the most part, been fairly gentle. All this winter we’ve had winds that have averaged between 5 and 15 knots, with lots of days with little or no wind at all. At least until last Tuesday! The Grande Norte came for a visit last week and hasn’t really left, he’s just taking a momentary rest.

The view for 5 days. Cold and very windy!

February is the month when the winds are at their worst and this is the time most of the Kayak companies have the bulk of their trips out to the islands. Imagine paying $1200.00 to come to Baja for a week of kayaking beautiful Carman Island only to be trapped on a beach by winds exceeding 50 knots (That’s 57 miles per hour or 92 kilometres per hour for those of you who are not nautically minded), not even knowing if you’ll be able to get back in time to fly home! We’re talking 8 and 9 foot waves here folks, and most of the folks who come for these paid excursions have absolutely no kayaking experience!. Not only that but it can come up so fast that it’s easy to be fooled and over the years some folks have died, either because they didn’t realize how fast the weather was deteriorating, or because they figured they had to take the chance to get back for their flight home.

Now I must interject here and tell you that the Guided Kayak adventures have NEVER lost anyone, so you’re safe with them, but it can still be a miserable trip, hunkered down in your tent for days on end, unable to even go hiking because the wind is so strong it can knock you off your feet and do damage to exposed eyes and skin. To add insult to injury, the sky generally remains clear and beautiful during these major wind events!
Some 7 years ago, 3 Canadians, one of whom was a Kayak instructor, were caught because they assumed they knew what they were doing and had a flight to catch. They left Carmen Island in the middle of one of the worst storms seen in years, and they ended up tossed out of their kayaks. The water here is definitely warmer than at home but you can still die from Hypothermia in 18c water, it just takes longer and that’s what happened to the Instructor. The other 2 managed to get back into their kayaks and were eventually found alive, but the instructor stayed under her kayak trying to keep out of the weather. She had a VHF radio with her and called and pleaded, but no one could get a boat out to her and there is no Coast Guard here. She eventually succumbed to Hypothermia and died. Those who had listened, were so shaken by the experience that they got together and created the Puerto Escondido Hidden Harbour Yacht Club Radio Net.

It broadcasts every morning at 8:15 AM and it is specifically designed for emergencies of any sort and to make sure that all who use the water know what the weather is going to be for at least 3 days in advance. The Kayak companies, sailors, anglers and those of us who just kayak for fun make sure we all listen every morning and organize our trips around that information. Since it’s inception, no one has been lost, injured or died. That’s quite an accomplishment!

Standing out in this can cause severe sand burn, if you can stand at all!

Now, back to last week.
We were warned it was coming and come it did! It blew for 5 full days.

Sometimes it sounded like the moaning and shrieking of an insane person, other times like the intake of a jet engine! The worst 2 days were so nasty and cold that we never ventured outside except to take the pictures you see here and for Richard to help the Fisherman next to us. His boat had broken it’s lines and was pounding ashore, so they tied it to our Suzuki and pulled it up the beach, out of the water.

A useless effort to stop the boat from pounding on the shore!

Aren't Suzuki's wonderful vehicles?

 

Carmen and Danzante disappearing!

You’ll notice that Carmen, and Danzante disappeared, except that wasn’t fog or clouds covering them, it was sand and dust in the air. Grummy rocked, shook and swayed in the wind, and even though every window and vent was shut tight, we still had to sweep and dust constantly as microscopic particles pushed their way through the very walls it seemed. Generally, when the wind is too high for water activities, the folks around here will head into town or venture out behind the beach for walks in the desert. Not this time! No one budged from their warm hidey holes until Friday when the worst was past, human, animal, bird or bat! Not a one was seen until the wind dipped below 25 knots(46 kph), then gradually life came back to the beach.
By the time the bulk of the storm had passed, our beach had completely changed. All of our lovely sand had been totally blown off the beach and was now up the road behind us. The rocks Richard had so carefully removed from our Kayak landing zone were now back, and there were twice as many than we started with. At one point, just below the locomotive sound of the wind, you could here the rumbling of rocks rolling under the waves. Broken branches from Mequite and palm trees littered the ground, and anything left outside needed to be rescued or dug out. The folks in the harbour are still trying to find and/or return all the lost articles blown off their boats. The locals say that this last blow was one of the coldest and windiest ones ever.
We not finished either. We’ve had a bit of a respite, with Sunday and Monday calm enough to get out and clean up, even to sit outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun, but it’s coming back! Tomorrow it’s supposed to start again and blow for another 4 or 5 days. Then after that, who knows? It could continue for weeks, gradually fade away or simply just stop and go back to the weather we’ve enjoyed up till now. There’s always a price to pay for everything, and for us El Grande Norte is the price we pay for the warmth, serenity and beauty we get to enjoy down here on the Baja.

You just never know when the piper will come calling.

Thanks for giving us the good life, Barb.

1 Feb

This is not my usual posting, but it is important to me! All those who have lost a loved one will understand.

Tomorrow would have been my sister’s 61st birthday. She died in 2005 and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. She was not only my older sister but my best friend as well.

My sister, Barbara

Things didn’t start out well. When she was 5 and the apple of everyones eye,  my Mother came home from the hospital with me and asked if she wanted to see me. Her answer was a resounding NO! The battle was on, with my poor eldest sister, Anne, not really sure how to deal with us. We spent the first 18 years of my life, literally trying to kill one another. We came damn close a couple of times, but we’d both learned to duck fast! Then my parents retired, sold the family home and moved to an island. We ended up moving in with one another in a house with 2 other girls and it became us against the world. We soon became each others best friend!

 
Have you ever known someone so well that you could argue a point vociferously and yet know when to draw the line? We did! Our husbands (both named Richard) would watch in horror as our conversation would get louder and louder. They were sure we were going to come to blows and brace themselves to tear us apart only to watch in amazement as we would suddenly stop arguing and start laughing.

 
We solved all the problems of the world between us but we couldn’t solve Pancreatic Cancer. From diagnosis to death Barb had a year and for the last 6 months I stayed by her side looking after her as her husband had predeceased her by 4 years and they had no children of their own. It was a sad and ugly time for both of us…and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything on earth. I had time to return to her all the love she and her husband had lavished on me and my children. I cared for her as if she was my child and I was able to say goodbye, though it was the very last thing I wanted to do.

 
Barbara and her husband Richard, took our daughters every summer for at least a couple of weeks. They spent so much time with them that they referred to them as Mom and Dad #2, and depending on which city they were visiting, thought nothing of asking them for the same type of help they would have asked us for.  Both were so heartbroken when the two of them died as neither lived to see the girls marry or have children of their own and I know that still saddens them. Our youngest even have a vase inscribed with Barbara and Richard’s names, sitting at the table with the guest book at her wedding, so that in some sense, they could both be in attendance.

My daughters, with their Uncle Richard

Richard and I had planned on retiring at 55 in 2010. Barbara’s death made it possible for us to retire in 2006. I have always believed that when one door closes, another opens and Barb opened one for us with her passing.

 
She left both myself and my oldest sister an inheritance. It wasn’t really large, but it was enough for Richard and I to get free and clear of all our debt. Added to the sale of our home and belongings and invested wisely it was enough to let us retire and see us through until Richards pension came  in at 55.

 
So, thanks to the death of my sister, Richard and I got to hit the road earlier than expected, where we could live the lifestyle that we currently enjoy. Yet nothing would make me happier than to have Barb back again. That way she she could come to Baja to explore and enjoy it with us! I would have happily worked those 5 years more, if only I could have her here on the beach with me now, enjoying a Scotch and telling me how beautiful it all is, as I’m sure she would have loved it.

 
So here’s to my sister Barbara, I can’t tell you how much I miss you girl. I really wish you were here, but because you’re not, all I can say is thank you for being such a great, big sister and looking out for me even after the end.

 
I will raise a glass of Scotch for you tomorrow and wish you Salainte Mahud, where ever you are!

Serendipity

14 Dec

Serendipity |ˌserənˈdipitē|noun,  the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way : a fortunate stroke of serendipity | a series of small serendipities.

 

I know, I know, that’s a strange way to start the blog today but hey, bear with me and you’ll understand!

 
First a slight digression. After having used a 7 foot  extreme white water kayak for the last 4 years and being driven crazy by it’s and my inability to travel in it, we decided after listening to friends whose advise we trust, to invest in a divorce boat. Never heard of them? Well that’s what those in the kayaking industry sarcastically call double kayaks. We love one another dearly, but we have also been known to fight like cats and dogs, even after 33 years of wedded bliss. So we decided on a 22 foot Seaward Passat G3, a Canadian made, fibreglas boat. Those of you who know the industry will recognize what we bought, but for the rest of you, this is a very long boat that separates the paddlers by another cockpit. It’s so long we can’t even touch one another with our paddles which for us is a good thing as the concept of paddling in unison is about as foreign as learning Chinese would be. It’s also a very fast and stable boat.

Told you it was long!

We bought it in May and spent a few trips out around Victoria, Shawnigan Lake and Okanagon Lake learning how to use it and get it on and off our vehicle. Since we drive a Suzuki it was quite the sight and we certainly got some strange looks from those who saw us transporting this beauty. The whole point of this was because for the last 5 winters we have been staring at Danzante and Carman Islands, just 3 1/2 miles away with no way to get to them, and we wanted something that we could do something together.

 

The kayak was hoisted onto the top of Grummy and off we went, back to Baja with the thoughts of long kayak trips dancing in our heads. We unloaded at our favourite spot on Rattlesnake beach and tried out a few short trips, mostly because sometime during the latter part of fall, I apparently tore my left Rotator Cuff. Big Bummer!! After a couple of short paddles it became apparent that the torn muscle wasn’t really going to be a problem paddling, so last Saturday that water was just too inviting and we decided to head out for a short fishing trip to figure out how we would manage to do that from the boat.

 

You know how you start out to do one thing and somehow it leads to something else? Well that’s exactly what happened to us. We caught a Little Tunny about 2 miles from the beach and decided since it was such a glorious day that we’d head to the south end of Danzante and take a look around. When we got there we thought, well, what the hell, let’s just put our nose around the bottom of the island and see what’s there, then it was go a little further till we found a lovely beach. We hopped out and wandered around enjoying the break and since we were almost half way up the other side of the island we decided to continue to round it and then head for our beach.

 

As we were approaching the northern end of Danzante, we spied what we thought was our friends in their Folbot, a rather slow, folding boat. We decided to sneak up on them, but as we got close, it became apparent that this was not our friends, but we planned on being friendly and saying “Hi” anyways. As we got close without them noticing, Richard said, loudly, “Beep, Beep”. They spun around, laughed, then noticing our fishing rod, plaintively asked if we could teach them how to catch fish. During the ensuing conversation, they told us they had been travelling for a month and a half and hadn’t managed to catch anything. They’d been into Loreto to store some gear and were just mucking about the islands as one of them’s girlfriend was coming to spend 4 days with him and the other was just going to hang around and relax while the other entertained. They wanted to know what time it was and if they could get a ride into town and to the airport from Puerto Escondido, the harbour just north of us, as the girls plane arrived at 3 PM. Richard as is his usual wont, immediately offered to drive the one fellow to the airport so he could meet his lady friend. They were pretty stoked that a total stranger would be willing to do that for them and accompanied us back to our beach. All the while, as we paddled back to Rattlesnake they told us of their journey and jokingly pointed out how heavily loaded their kayak was. It also was a folding boat but a Feathercraft, which is also a Canadian made kayak, which they pointed out when it became apparent that we were Canadian, and they weren’t joking about all the weight. They said they had a hull speed of 6 knots and they weren’t kidding. It was all we could do to restrain ourselves and stay with them.

 

Landing on our beach, Richard pulled our kayak up to it’s parking spot and I grabbed 4 bottles of beer and took them down as the boys started to unload their kayak, and unload, and unload, and unload! The amount of stuff they had with them was unbelievable and they said they still had a sail rig, kite and kite board sitting in Loreto that they had carried all the way from San Filipe, where they had originally put in. This is in the far north of the Sea of Cortez on the Baja side, a very long ways away. They were ever so thankful for the beer and we finally got around to introducing ourselves. They were Mark and Josh and it was Josh who was heading to the airport to meet his girlfriend. As soon as the kayak was unloaded enough to get it up the beach, off they went with Richard.

And that's only part of all the stuff

When they returned a couple of hours later, it was just Mark with Richard and already the funny stories had started. Richard had dropped Josh off at the airport and continued into Loreto so Mark could get the rest of their stuff. They had stopped at the little convenience store near our road access on their way back in and apparently Mark was famished. As he gathered up all the carbs he could find, Richard mentioned to Lorraina the proprieties how hungry Mark was, sensing a customer she could upsell to, she showed him a pizza. Mark was interested but not willing to eat it cold, “Not a problem” Lorraina said and popped it into her Microwave right then, and handed it to Mark, hot. He devoured the whole thing quickly and Richard was still chuckling about Lorrainas business acumen when they got back to the beach.

 

Mark kept asking if it was going to be OK for him to stay on our beach for a couple of days and we kept reassuring him that it would be fine, besides it wasn’t really “our” beach. I asked him to come for dinner and he accepted with alacrity. Over the course of dinner, we heard more of Mark and Josh’s story. Mark was an doctor from Oregon that no longer practiced in the States. He was actually supposed to be writing a book about the how bad the US medical system was but he got a bit bogged down and on the spur of the moment he asked his friend Josh if he wanted to travel down the Sea of Cortez, to La Paz. Josh, an unemployed carpenter with nothing better to do, agreed. With only a weeks planning, off they went. They hit huge waves, very high winds, no landing sites, and probably should have died a dozen times over, but fate obviously had other plans for them.  With Josh off to new girlfriend heaven, Mark had time to finally relax, enjoy the warm sun and sand and get some work done on his book. The next morning, Richard had the couple next to us in stitches when he leapt out of the van, coffee cup in hand to present to Mark just as he woke up. Our neighbours told us that they’d never seen such a high quality resort.

Dr. Mark

Dr. Mark was a very personable guy and in no time at all became a favourite with everyone on the beach who met him. He also was more than willing to help a few folks who were in need of a doctors ministrations. I warned him that he could end up stuck on our beach, all he had to do was let it be known he was a Doctor and the folks would be lining up. He actually ended up doing consultations on our beach with a fellow that was having major stomach problems caused by parasites. Mark in his young life (38) had kayaked in a great many countries and had experienced the same problems, so he knew exactly what was needed and actually had some medicine with him that helped our friend tremendously. He was more than willing to offer advise consisting of Western, Oriental and herbal. When I asked him about it he said he believed in using whatever worked. The only time he ever used strictly Western medicine was if the patient was dying, because it had the best painkillers.

 

He joined our beach Yoga group and went hiking up Tabour Canyon, with us and others, making friends as he went. Finally after 4 days Josh returned to the beach with his girlfriend in tow, and 50 pounds more food that Mark’s wife had shipped down. Heather was supposed to have flown out that day, but her flight had been cancelled with no explanation. She was told to come back the next day, maybe the flight would leave then. This is Mexico, you just get used to these things. They decided the best way to pass the time was to come to the beach, borrow the kayak and go snorkelling. Off they went and when they returned they had another 2 kayakers with them. These gentlemen had made the same trip Mark and Josh had and were only staying the night. In the mean time Mark spent the day on the beach trying to pare down the amount of stuff that they needed to pack, and still stay afloat.

Our kayak resort

The next morning our beach looked like Kayak Heaven with bodies camping out all over the place. Our neighbour told us later she and her husband were taking bets between them as to whether we had enough coffee mugs to go around and would Richard be out there again in the morning handing coffee out. We did and he did. Shortly after breakfast the other 2 visitors said their goodbyes and thanks and turning into the sunrise, headed south.

 

The rest of us consulted and made plans. Heather needed to be at the airport at noon and once 2 PM had passed they knew she would be off. At that point, if she didn’t return to the beach, the boys would pack up and head south themselves.

 

We also wanted to go out on the water so we figured we’d meet up with them as they left. We were gone until 3PM and figured we’d missed them, but as we got closer to the beach we could see them still loading their kayak. We made it back just in time to give them both a big hug and sincere wishes for a safe and uneventful finish to their trip. There was quite a crowd on the beach to see them off and actually a few tears were shed as they sailed off into the wind. Most of us watched until we could no longer see them and many commented on just how quiet it would be now. When we turned back into our camping site, there in our Mesquite tree was a bag with about  20 pounds of food. Mark had left it for us as a sort of payment for everything we’d done for him. He also had an ulterior motive, that way he didn’t have to put it in the already overloaded kayak!

Josh and Mark leaving the way they came

E-mail addresses had been exchanged and all of us were invited to visit Mark in Bend any time. I’m sure, considering all the friends he made in the short time he spent on our beach that many will take him up on the offer. We can all hardly wait to read his book and get it personally autographed by our new friend Dr. Mark!

A serendipitous occasion if ever there was one!